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Sharp but self-important: Lindsey Buckingham at the Grove

November 5th, 2006, 12:36 pm  by Ben Wener

Just wanted to share some quick thoughts on Lindsey Buckingham’s show Friday night at the Grove of Anaheim, which I found startling and off-putting in equal measure.

My problem has nothing to do with Buckingham’s playing, which was by and large superb and often astonishing, despite some occasional tempo issues (some caused by an inevitable stiffening in his virtuosic, lightning-fast picking, others brought on by an otherwise skillful support trio somehow losing sight of the beat). On older pieces - a typically churning “I’m So Afraid,” an atmospherically reworked “Go Insane,” a ripping run through “Tusk” - Buckingham was in expert form. On newer work from his stripped-down, semi-autobiographical excursion Under the Skin, he was quietly brilliant, his subtle, neo-classical fretwork evoking a deeply contemplative mood.

His voice has retained its potency, capable of switching from a sinister whisper to an anguished yell in an instant. His band, culling from a palette of ecclectic percussion and surprisingly effective (read: never cheesy) keyboard flourishes, instinctively colored in the blank spaces that surround his more skeletal presentations.

And they threw in “Holiday Road” (that bouncy little ditty from the Vacation flicks) just for kicks in the encore. How often do you ever get to hear that live?

In many ways, then, this was an ideal intimate experience with a performer whose best live work often only surfaces when he’s in a venue 100 times larger. Yet that may have something to do with what I found so unsettling - namely, Buckingham’s ego.

It’s the weirdest thing: I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with him three times before, and though I’ve often detected a certain air of I-know-I’m-great arrogance - and Lindsey has never been one to stifle a self-congratulatory compliment - his conversational manner is sprinkled with enough self-deprecation and scathing criticism of his past work that you get the sense that he’s balanced, grounded. A certain sort of genius who doesn’t take himself that seriously.

Yet there’s something irritating about his stage persona, where much of that humility dissipates in a fog of pretentious chatter about life lessons (replete with overdramatic poetry), preening poses, far too many overwrought arrangements and humourless expressions. He makes Paul Simon, who I figured was the king of appearing smug even when he doesn’t mean to, seem like a cuddly toy. Buckingham, on the other hand, seems impenetrable, sealed-off, self-satisfied.

After a while, I just couldn’t bear to watch. I found it was much more appealing to wander in the back - or even by the bar or outside, where speakers allowed you to hear what he was playing without watching him aggrandize himself. I couldn’t tell if anyone else felt the way I did; surely some fans buy into his ego trip, based purely on the brilliance at hand. I can’t fault that. But if you can’t decide whether to see him this Friday at the WIltern LG - a golden opportunity for guest stars, by the way - well, his demeanor could be a determining factor. I’d keep it in mind, anyway.

… Ben